Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Crocker’

The Life Effects of Volunteering

January 15, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Jami Zaki in the Health & Science section of the 14 January, 2020 Washington Post. Saki begins by quoting Martin Luther King Jr.”

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

Dr. King also described a mistake that wastes many lives. He called it the drum major instinct, “a desire to be out front to lead the parade, a desire to be first.”

Human children remain helpless for years. They crave attention; without it they would die. Zaki writes,”But instead of subsiding with age, the drum major instinct spreads across our lives. We’ve even elevated it into an ideology, defining success as the ability to beat our enemies and outshine our peers—as though self-obsessed competition will make us thrive.

This notion is both comically and tragically backward. Decades of evidence demonstrate that social connections sustain us. Chronic loneliness increases mortality risk about as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We flourish not by besting others, but by being part of something greater than ourselves. By clamoring for status, we deprive ourselves of one thing that would actually help us—each other.”

Psychologist Jennifer Crocker and her colleagues asked freshman college students about their social goals. Some cared most about making a good impression: showcasing their strengths and hiding their weaknesses. Although this might appear to be a wise strategy among young adults sizing one another up, it wasn’t.

The more students focused on themselves, the more lonely, depressed and anxious they became, and anxiety, in turn, made students worry even more about their image.

Zaki writes, “Scratching the itch of their drum major instinct, they made it worse.”

The drum major instinct is poison, but there is an antidote. Zaki calls it the drummer’s instinct: an urge not to lead the parade, but to be part of it—in rhythm with others, creating something together that no one could alone. The drum major instinct zooms us in on ourselves, but the drummer’s instinct drives us to care for our bandmates, and it runs deep. HM, being a former drummer who marched in bands with a drum major, really appreciates this analogy. Zaki continues, “young children crave attention, but they also prefer kindness over cruelty, and spontaneously help others in need.”

Crocker measured not just the college students’ desire to stand out but also to be kind. Students who held these “compassionate goals” suffered less depression and loneliness. They received more support from their peers, but that is not what predicted their well-being. Those who helped others were more likely to thrive.

Zaki reports, “Children and adults draw joy from helping others. Doctors who feel compassion for their patients burn out less often. Colleagues who support one another perform more effectively and are more fulfilled at work. And older adults who volunteer live longer and remain healthier than those who don’t.

Given this uncontroversial evidence, why do we still want to be drum majors”? Zaki gives two reasons.

“Individualistic cultures like ours valorize selfish pursuits, and then teach us—wrongly—that whether we like it or not, selfishness is at our core. This turns up the volume on our desire for attention, making the drummer’s instinct harder to hear.”

“”People often help others to help themselves. We give to charity for that rush of “warm glow,” or to confirm our character in moments of doubt. We advertise our virtues by changing our profile picture, or donating just enough to get our names on the opera house wall. These acts are generous on the surface, but hide the drum major instinct underneath.”

There is a healthy memory blog post titled “Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk” that argues that the Buddhist Monk lives a happier and more fulfilling life than Donald Trump. Should you not agree with this title, please read this post.

“Eudaimonic” means conducive to happiness. There will be many future posts on this topic.

In Search of the Daimon Inside

March 4, 2017

The title of this post is the title of a section in Victor Strecher’s Book, “Life on Purpose.”  The Japanese have a word for “Life on Purpose” and that is ikigai, which is used in these posts because it has an earlier appearance in this blog and is shorter.

The daimon is the term the Greeks used to represent the inner self.  Dr. Strecher and his research team was interested in learning how the affirmation of core values works in the brain.  This research was led by Emily Falk of the University of Pennsylvania.  The researchers started with already-identified  part of the brain related to the “self.”  It’s in an area called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC).  This part of the brain becomes active when we are processing information about our selves.

The researchers invited a group of sedentary people who would benefit from physical activity and gave each of them an accelerometer to measure activity changes.  After a week of learning about each participant’s activity patterns, the researchers used fMRI.  They asked half of them about the values they cared about most while scanning their brains.  For example, they’d ask a person who valued religion to “think of a time when religious values might give you a purpose in life.  Participants in the control group were asked to think about the values they cared least about.

Four four weeks following the scanning session, while their physical activity was still being monitored,  all participants were sent messages about increasing it.  Participants in the values affirmation group also received messages about their most important values, whereas those in the control group received messages about their least important values.

Compared to the control group, those in the group who considered their most important core values had greater activation of their vmPFC and went to increase their physical activity over the next month.  Moreover, the more the vmPFC became activated, the more physical activity occurred over the next month.  So the affirmation of core  purposeful values seemed to “open their minds” to change.

In another study psychologist Jennifer Crocker and her colleagues asked study participants either to write about their most important core value and why it was meaningful to them (the values affirmation group) or to write about their least important value and why it might be important and meaningful to other people (the control group).  Then, the participants were asked to rate how the essay they wrote made them feel.  Finally, they tested the participants’ defensiveness.  Participants affirming their most important values felt love, connectedness, and empathy, and these transcending feelings reduced their defensiveness.